Showy Mountain Ash Seedlings

My seeds of showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora), cold stratifying in the fridge, showed signs of germinating so I planted the little sproutlings in potting soil and put them in the coldest window, to delay their growth enough to allow the calendar to catch up to them. They are reaching for  light a bit, but they are very cute.

Seeds of plants which grow in cool conditions may start to germinate in the fridge. Especially when I haven’t grown the species before, I may estimate that they need a much longer cold-moist stratification period than they do. It is useful to check on stratifying seeds — about once a month should do in the winter, more frequently as the season progresses.

I collected the showy mountain ash seeds in Nova Scotia this past September. I have very fond memories of this lovely shrub/small tree from a visit, some years ago, to Newfoundland in early October. Bright orange clusters of mountain ash fruit were everywhere, the most colourful thing in the landscape.

The magnificient scenery of coastal Newfoundland, with a fruiting showy mountain ash in the foreground.
The magnificent scenery of coastal Newfoundland, with a fruiting showy mountain ash in the foreground.

American highbush cranberry viburnum

American highbush cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) looks very like a closely-related European shrub, V. opulus. They used to be considered, and some still consider them to be, geographical races of the same species, i.e. V. trilobum was named V. opulus var. americanum. They have always been considered taxonomically distinct, but being so closely related, they will interbreed, and the existence of hybrid individuals growing in wild places adds to the confusion.

There was some discussion about the differences between the two among my Facebook friends a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I would continue the discussion here, and post a few more photos. By just looking at the bright red fruits, which persist in winter, one cannot easily tell the two species apart, and this has led to some truly ghastly cooking experiments. American highbush cranberry got its common name because its sour fruits can be cooked up with sugar into a sauce that can be used like cranberry sauce. Fruit from the European look-alike cooks up into something that smells and tastes like a distillation of dirty gym lockers. The native American will vary in palatability from plant to plant, so to get the most reliable fruit for cooking it is best to plant named clones, but the native is just not foul-tasting in the manner of European species. Continue reading American highbush cranberry viburnum

Magnificent fall colour from a native shrub

The Sunday before last I was cutting buckthorn in a park with other community volunteers. Sent into a hillside of what once was open oak woodland and set to removing one species of nasty invasive alien with long-handled loppers, I couldn’t restrict myself to just the day’s target species. A couple of common barberries, a volunteer forsythia, and about half a dozen winged euonymus or burning-bush (Euonymus alata) also bit the dust with dozens of buckthorn. I am good at plant ID (in truth, better at it than the park employee who was in charge of the volunteers); I knew what I was doing.

Winged euonymus is not as bad an invasive as the noxious buckthorn, but I have seen it become more and more common in the ravines and in remnant woods in heavily urbanized areas. Is it on its way to become a really bad invasive in southern Ontario? By the time that question is settled, it is almost too late to act.

It always astounds me that winged euonymus, which is a very boring shrub, continues to be such a popular shrub in landscaping. It has one contribution to make – it has bright fall colour. Huhn? We live in a part of the world where the native flora is world-famous for its fall colour, and we use this tedious, invasive European species to provide fall display in our gardens. Are we nuts? Do we not know any native shrubs which have bright fall colour?

Allow me to introduce maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolia).

How vivid do you want your native shrubs to be?

Pretty maple-shaped  leaves in bright tones of pink and red ought to endear it to every Canadian, eh? It grows in woodlands so it puts up with closed-canopy shade. The fall colour is more vivid red in sun, more delicately pink in shade but it is always lovely. It is not a big shrub. Shrubs of Ontario says “less than 2 m” but I often see it in deciduous woods as an under-storey layer reaching no more than about 4 ft (1.2 m). It has modest white flowers in the spring. In the fall, as a dark counterpoint to the splashy leaves, it carries clusters of blue-black fruits that are popular with birds. Why isn’t it in every garden? Who would want a boring old burning-bush euonymus if garden centres had this one front and centre?  Continue reading Magnificent fall colour from a native shrub

Wild fruit photos

All those native perennial plants with great fruit for the birds of which I have written? I have to show some pictures. The selection is by no means exhaustive: trilliums and twisted stalks, blue cohosh and mayflower, starry false Solomon’s seal and bunch berry, and many others are not shown. Spikenard and poke and other star players are featured…

Fruit of Solomon's seal, Crawford Lake CA, September 2011.

Continue reading Wild fruit photos